The homogeneous church growth principle teaches that the fastest growing churches are those that appeal to people of similar origins, interest, and other factors of conformity. It is a practical approach to growing churches, and it works, but I don’t believe it is God’s ideal. Read more >>
What is wrong with the church? I had an interesting lunch this week. A young man and his family recently attended SIBC. Their only reason for attending was to satisfy the desire of visiting parents to attend church. Like so many others I have met in recent years, this young man belongs to a growing community of people who, while believing in Christ, are disenfranchised with the church.
To be honest, I understand their feelings. Most of the current community of the disenfranchised grew up in church. Many still remain committed to the reality of Christ. The problem most of these people have is twofold. Read more >>
What do the Three Little Pigs have to do with the Bible? Or, what about the Ugly Ducking, or the Race Between the Tortoise and the Hare? Is there any connection between the stories we regularly share with our children and the teaching of Scripture? Come find out as Pastor Dan begins a six week series entitled, “Not Just For Kids – Children’s Stories for all Ages.”
It’s been a while since my last blog post. No, I haven’t been goofing off. I just haven’t been ready for the follow up on what I’m calling The Reformation of the Heart. So, I’ve been praying and reading, studying and meditating. I’m taking off the second half of April to do some writing. So far, so good. There is a lot of stuff spilling out and a clear theme shaping up. It has to do with the institutionalized church and the way it depersonalizes the Christian faith and community.
Returning to the theme from my previous post, Jesus told the religious leaders in his day to Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. That’s the problem with institutions, they demand sacrifice, not mercy. Institutions by their very nature are heartless and impersonal. Their faces are seen in buildings and balance sheets, budgets and bylaws. Their existence depends on sacrifice. And because they are religious automatons, mercy is irrelevant. Resistance is futile and you will be assimilated . . . or crushed!
For those whose God is the institution–or at least they can no longer conceive of him apart from the institution (which is of course, idolatry)–sacrificial, merciless religion is the only way. Fashioned and crafted by their own hands, supported by their hard earned monies, and propped up by their diligent, and often guilt motivated service, those whose god is the institutional church work hard to keep him alive. In return they receive certain rewards for their religious service – recognition, prestige, position, and place.
The leaders of these institutions are often rewarded for their good works by moving up the ladder of the institutional hierarchy. There they receive the blessings of their god evidenced by lavish offices, spacious homes, luxury cars, growing financial portfolios, and vacations in exotic places. In time, some of these leaders are crowned with divinity by the institutional god. They are revered by the masses. Their words are spoken and received ex cathedra. Always chained to the god whose life depends on them, and on whose lives theirs now depends, they place heavy burdens on the masses. Weekly or monthly giving is not enough, and taxes are increased through special offerings. Heavy handed recruitment programs are developed to fill vacant positions in the incubation chamber, or on the finance committee.
Meanwhile many who join the institution in search of the God of Jesus Christ are being pressured to leave the God they came seeking for the god of the institution. Those who resist are crushed. Those who buckle under the pressure are assimilated. Both find themselves in a dry and thirsty land.
I know I’m painting a dismal picture here, but that’s what I see when I look at much of today’s church. Prophetic voices like those of A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and others have warned us for decades of this merciless, institutionalized church. In my last blog post I mentioned Eugene Peterson. His is another prophetic voice crying out in this dry and thirsty land. Just this week I read an article in the April 9, 2012, edition of Newsweek entitled, The Forgotten Jesus. It’s an excellent mainstream media assessment of what is happening to the church in America, and it bears witness to what I believe is the current church reformation.
It has been a long time coming, but I’m choosing to add my meager voice to the cry in our day for reformation. I don’t believe this reformation will be accomplished by resurgent fundamentalism, or an emerging Christianity that effectively neuters the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds, though there are elements of truth found in both of these present day movements. This reformation, what I’m calling The Reformation of the Heart, will be a mustard seed movement. It will grow silently, steadily. It will blossom in unexpected places and churches. Places like Seoul, South Korea and churches like SIBC. God delights in working from the fringes. Most important, God delights in working not through institutions, but people. Not through organization, but inspiration. After all, it was this kind of movement that gave birth to our faith. And it has been these kinds of silent, mustard seed movements that throughout the centuries have returned the church to the power of purity, and the strength of simplicity.
That’s enough for now. I’m just glad to be a part of what God is doing in these days. I’m glad to be a part of SIBC.
I just finished a book that our secretary, Jinyoung, gave me for Christmas – The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson. He was about seventy years old when he wrote it, and I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a guy who has learned how to spin straw into gold. He excels at that gift possessed by all great writers; he’s able to take those things that the rest of us think and feel, and put them into words.
It was what he said about “one sermon” pastors that really got my attention. I’ve heard a few “one sermon” pastors in my day. The north Georgia mountains, where I spent several years of my ministry, has a lot of them. They tend to be suspect of cemetery trained pastors (that’s seminary trained for those who don’t know the dialect of the Blue Ridge mountains), and they believe that studying before preaching is tantamount to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. They step into their pulpits on Sunday scarcely knowing what they are going to say. The result is they pretty much say the same thing every week.
But that’s not what Eugene Peterson meant when he described “one sermon” pastors.
What Peterson meant was that after years of teaching and leading God’s people there tends to develop in most pastors an overarching theme or philosophy that undergirds, and is woven into everything they say and do. I’ve noticed this.
For some, it’s all about orthodoxy. Getting it right. For others it’s about missions and ministry. Going and doing. Other “one sermon” emphases include evangelism; winning souls for the kingdom, the Holy Spirit; living an obedient, holy life, the Blessed Life; receiving all God has for us. The list goes on. All of these are good things, and I’ve given time to each of them over the years.
But then I started asking myself, “What is my one sermon?” What is the one thing that I keep coming back to over and over again?
I thought about how often I quote the words of Jesus when he says that all the Law and Prophets (that is the whole Bible) can be summed up in the words of Moses, love God with all your heart, and love others as yourself. Or when Christ says Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. I’ve shared the sobering truth that right doctrine does not necessarily lead to right living; not if we don’t realize that doctrine is not the end, but rather the means to the end.
So, what is my one sermon? What is it that permeates everything else I say? I think that maybe the phrase, reformation of the heart describes it best, because by revealing His heart to us God makes possible the reformation of our own hearts.
What is the Bible if not the revelation of God’s heart? The opening pages of Genesis reveal that heart in the act of creation – and it was good, and it was good, and it was good. We see God’s heart when He cries out to naked, hidden Adam, Where are you? Most clearly, we see the heart of God in Jesus who came to seek and to save prodigal children like you and me.
The Apostle John says; we love him because he first loved us. God’s love is the eternal flame that ignites our own hearts. The closer we draw to that flame, the more our own cold hearts are warmed, reformed, and transformed so that God’s love is experienced by those around us. And that divine love is the irresistible force that draws people to Christ.
That’s my one sermon. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m better at preaching it than living it. But I’m trying. I see others trying too. In fact, from my perspective more and more pastors seem to be preaching about the transforming power of God’s love. More and more communities of believers are being transformed by what Jesus referred to as the two greatest commandments – Love God with all your heart. Love others as yourself.
I’ll have a lot more to say about this in future blogs. For now, I’m reading, watching, and praying for what I believe may very well be the newest reformation of the church. I like to call it, The Reformation of the Heart. Stay tuned.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens’ opening words in the classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, flashed across my mind on a recent mountain prayer walk. On my way up I was thinking of this Christmas season and about how, for the first time in our marriage, Sherri and I have no Christmas tree – we bought a spruce scented candle instead. I light it faithfully each night.
I was thinking of my children and about how, for the first time in the life of our family, we won’t all be together on Christmas Day. I was thinking about their stockings – almost as old as each of them – hung by the apartment humidifier with care. Every night Sherri and I see those stockings emblazoned with the names of our flesh and blood, and every night I weep a little on the inside.
It was about this time I reached the top. It was clear and cold, but Seoul, this great city that I’ve come to love so much, shone brightly all around me. Mountains surrounded me. The Han River sparkled in the distance. Seoul Tower stood tall, and I imagined SIBC tucked away in our little alley street in Haebongcheon.
As I started back down the mountain I thought about how blessed Sherri and I are to be a part of such a great church. I thought about the family in Christ that surrounds us, loves us, and prays for us every day. I thought about how, at this church, with this diverse group of people, my wife and I have built strong, transparent relationships where I can be both myself and the pastor God has called me to be with no disconnect; no pressure to conform to certain expectations.
Time passed quickly and soon I was back in our apartment. The heated floor warmed my cold toes as I opened my Bible and read the words of Psalm 37:3-4: Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
And so He has.
Merry Christmas to our SIBC family — past, present, and future.
My wife rebuked me the other day. She said I was acting holier than thou.
Sherri was driving, as usual. I’ve often said that the reason Sherri does most of the driving is we argue less. That’s partially true. The other reason is that I can be a bit of a space cadet at times. I bump into walls. I miss bus stops. I could go on, but you get the idea. People who bump into walls and miss bus stops bump into cars and miss red lights. In my defense, I would like to say that I’m usually pondering something, which at the time, seems important.
So, Sherri’s driving.
The day before I was driving – Sherri was at work. It was a typical day. People were cutting in front of me, running red lights, blocking intersections, the usual. But I was at peace; totally unprovoked. Didn’t flip anybody off – not that I’ve ever done that. I haven’t. But Jesus says if you flip a guy off in your heart it’s as bad as beating the pulp out of him with your fists. Anyway, I’m at peace, and I’m thanking God for what I believe are some real positive strides in my life toward more holy living.
So, Sherri’s driving.
The driver in front is straddling the lane and going about ten in a sixty. She pulls way over to the right and guns it. Rather than my usual sigh and loud gulp, I tell my wife how good it is to be at such peace in the Lord that people don’t easily provoke us. She glances at me and continues driving.
It wasn’t long after this that there was some other similar event. After all, it is Seoul. I reflected, out loud, on how I was not going to let the negative spirit on the roads of this city get to me. No, I was going to remain at peace in the Lord. You probably need to know that I made four or five similar statements in about a fifteen minute period.
Anyway, Sherri lit into me, and told me to stop acting so holier than thou. I immediately proceeded to prove her point through my painful, self-righteous indignation. Hasn’t she noticed my growth in the Lord in the last few months? Can she not rejoice with her husband over his obvious strides to great peace and discipleship? These, and many other thoughts just like them, filled my wounded heart.
Funny thing about self-righteousness – it’s often the product of real spiritual growth. We make some real strides in the crucifixion of the flesh: critical attitudes, bad language, lack of prayer time, whatever. Then we start patting ourselves on the back or seeking the affirmation of others – Oh, you are getting so holy, so gentle, so Christ-like.
Here’s the truth about self-righteousness; it’s self-worship. It’s narcissism on spiritual steroids. It turns people off. It disgraces Christ and dishonors his church. Worst of all, it places a set of blinders on us that can led to long detours in true discipleship. Thank God for godly wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, anyone who calls us out when we exhibit the filthy flesh of self-righteousness.
I thanked my wife last night for her rebuke. Think nothing of it, she said. Anytime.
This past Sunday’s worship service at SIBC was interesting to say the least. I don’t think anyone – other than baby Julia Rischer, who Sherri was holding – slept through the preaching!
If you were in attendance Sunday then you witnessed the public rebuttal of some comments Pastor Dave made while bringing a message from Matthew’s gospel. In particular, Dave’s understanding of Rahab in Matthew’s genealogy as the prostitute from Jericho was disputed. To be fair, there are some differences between sincere students of God’s Word about the identity of the woman in question.
HOWEVER, it is not my purpose to present a case for, or against Dave’s understanding of the text.
INSTEAD, I would rather draw our attention to what I believe is the real issue at question here – God’s Word.
Teaching the Bible is a humbling and daunting task. It is, in my view, only possible for those who have been called by God. This is especially true of those called to teach an entire assembly, or congregation of God’s people. The church’s emphasis on ordination reflects this. Paul warns us not to lay hands too hastily on those who desire to become teachers. James warns that the teachers of God’s Word will be judged more strictly than others in the body of Christ.
But the truth is that God calls fallible human beings to declare his infallible, holy Word. Only arrogance of the highest order would prompt any teacher of the Word to declare that he has never erred in any interpretation of the Bible. I personally have changed views regarding numerous interpretations in my twenty eight years of pastoral ministry. Some of the brightest and most respected Bible scholars and teachers have been questioned in regard to writings or statements from their pulpits. To their credit, many of these – whose names you would recognize – have acknowledged error from time to time.
That brings us to two crucial and interrelated questions – What is God’s Word, and what is the purpose of the teaching of that Word?
As Protestants most of us at least know the name “Martin Luther”. What many do not recognize is just how much Luther’s theology — and it is by no means Luther’s alone, for many others in various parts of Christendom shared these beliefs — shapes, or should shape, our view of preaching.
For Luther, the Word of God is the starting and ending point for all theology. The tradition of the church submits to the Word of God. The declarations of Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, and all others who speak for God must be subject to God’s Word.
BUT WHAT IS THE WORD OF GOD?
Luther understood, and most Protestant theologians agree, that the Word of God is more than the written words of the Bible. Ultimately, the Word of God is none other than God; specifically it is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
To begin with, it does not mean that doctrine and correct Bible interpretation is not important. It is very important. The fact that one of our church members was concerned about Pastor Dave’s interpretation of a specific passage is a blessing to me. He was listening carefully. He cares. He desires for the Word of God to be rightly divided. All pastors should welcome those who sincerely disagree, or question their understanding of the Bible. Our goal is to understand more clearly those things God has revealed. I love what Richard Foster says in Celebration of Discipline, “We are dependent upon one another to receive the full counsel of God.” (p. 140)
My concern this past Sunday was more with the method used than the questioning itself. Public confrontation of those whom God has placed in leadership positions should only come after private discussions, and with the counsel and support of other church leaders.
BUT BACK TO THE QUESTION AT HAND – WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT THE WORD OF GOD IS MORE THAN THE WRITTEN WORDS OF THE BIBLE, AND THAT ULTIMATELY THE WORD OF GOD IS JESUS CHRIST?
It means that the primary purpose of all Bible study and teaching is to glorify and exalt Jesus Christ. When God’s Word, Jesus Christ is present in the teacher as he teaches, then that Word will be imparted and become flesh in the hearers. This is what we call the “anointing”. That is, the presence of the Spirit of Christ in the declaration of God’s Word. This anointing must be upon both the teacher and the hearers of the Word.
When the anointing is present, God’s Word will become incarnate in the hearers. The Body of Christ will be encouraged, and built up. The presence of the Spirit of Christ will permeate the church as a whole, and members individually.
THIS HAPPENS EVEN IF THE TEACHER IS NOT TOTALLY ACCURATE IN ALL POINTS OF INTERPRETATION.
Jesus taught that when a disciple is fully trained s/he will be like his teacher.
The teacher imparts, either a spirit of flesh, filled with pride and self, negativity, intolerance, and those things opposed to the person of Christ
The teacher imparts the Spirit of Christ, where grace, servanthood, faith, love, and those things that build up and encourage God’s people are received.
This is why teachers must relentlessly pursue God. Our calling is first and foremost to be with God. We must give our people more than doctrine. We must give our people ourselves. We cannot expect for Christ to be formed in others through our teaching, until he is formed in us. We cannot give people something we don’t have. Wisdom comes from the wise. Maturity comes from the mature. All things come from God, through Christ. That is why Paul said, follow me as I follow Christ.
We are a diverse group of believers at SIBC. There are many points of doctrine about which we could argue. But as pastor, I want to encourage all of us to heed the words of Augustine: in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.
The contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day could not have been greater. From the disciples they chose to teach, to their interactions with known sinners, women, lepers, and other outcasts and misfits. Even their teaching styles differed. The crowds were amazed at the teaching of Jesus. He teaches with authority, they said. The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, quoted the writings of other scholars, basing their authority on secondary sources. But the most significant difference between Jesus and the religious leaders was in how they related to God. Jesus summed it up when he quoted the prophet Hosea – I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
It’s a lot easier to perform religious duties than it is to love people; especially those people who are different, or even antagonistic to us. This is the challenge of discipleship. It’s the acid test of a pure heart and a faith anchored, not in religious performance, but in God’s transforming power both in our lives, and the lives of others. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:32, NKJV)
Among the many challenges of the twenty-first century church I believe the greatest is to demonstrate God’s mercy and love to those with whom we differ ideologically, politically, morally, and in other ways. Jesus did. He dined with tax collectors who by the very nature of their business were excommunicated from the synagogues. He even chose a tax collector to be one of the twelve. Jesus allowed women to sit at his feet receiving his teaching. Most Rabbis would avoid any contact or conversation with women in public, some even their wives! Reaching out to lepers and other unclean persons was a recurring event in the life of Christ. In this way he was constantly unclean according to the Law. But Jesus understood that these acts of compassion were at the very heart of the Scriptures. This is why he instructed us saying; whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NKJV)
This kind of discipleship is far more difficult than mere religious observance. It’s one thing to study our Bibles, do our daily devotions, and give our money and time to the local church, but engaging in a labor of love to those whose lives are so radically different from our own, well that’s a different story. Given the current activism of the church against certain lifestyles, it would appear that it is hard enough to avoid publicly ostracizing and condemning such people, much less openly loving and respecting them as human beings created in the image of God.
This raises another unavoidable issue. How will those disciples who take seriously Jesus’ words that mercy is better than sacrifice be viewed by others in the church? The religious leaders labeled Jesus a friend of sinners. They accused him of the sins of hedonism – gluttony and drunkenness. He dines with sinners was paramount to saying that Jesus condoned the sin of those with whom he spent time. When our Lord warned his disciples saying, if they persecuted me they will persecute you, he wasn’t talking about the sinners he was talking about the religious leaders!
Following Jesus means that we must be willing to endure criticism from unbelievers, as well as those in the church. But for those willing to follow the example of Christ the joy of mercy practiced will deliver us from self-righteousness, and make sacrifice the means, not the end of our faith.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Dave preached on the subject of Spiritual Gifts. You can find the link to the sermon here.
If you would like to do further study on the spiritual gifts, you can download this file, that summarizes the spiritual gifts as found in the New Testament. Additionally, a couple of spiritual gift surveys worth taking can be found here and here.
Many thanks to TheResurgence.com for the use of their free resources.
It is our hope that in providing this material it will stir in your heart the desire to serve in a way that brings God the most glory, and you the most joy.
Many blessings in Christ.